Monday, January 21, 2008

"How Bosnia Armed" by Marko Attila Hoare [2]

Having now read two of the four chapters, I can unreservedly recommend this book to anyone who would like understand this dimension of the Bosnian war. In addition to the specific focus on the the institutional and political development of the ARBiH, however, this book also sheds some light on the confusion of Bosnia's early years, from the first free election up until several months after the war broke out. Attila Hoare illustrates how the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina was severely hampered by institutional confusion at all levels; different agencies had troubles communicating, the leadership of the Presidency was slow to recognize the danger that the JNA posed to the nascent Bosnian state; many high-ranking officials had mixed loyalties or were outright traitors; and so on.

The Army was formed of a fusion between the Tito-era Territorial Defense (TO) Militias and the SDA-affiliated Patriotic League (PL) militias; defections from the JNA would bring in the bulk of the experienced senior leadership of the new army. The tension between these different groups was often severe; they were steeped in different institutional cultures, but also brought contradictory political baggage. The TO leadership tended to be more in favor of a secular, multi-cultural force, while the PL leadership naturally tended to favor overt Muslim nationalism. Add to this the former JNA officers who brought strong Titoist ideology with them, and you had a fractured force often at odds with itself.

I am giving a very simplified version of the story, of course, and Attila Hoare has done a fantastic job of filling out what could be a drab, sterile tale of bureaucratic infighting into a fairly compelling narrative. His intimacy with the region and his fluency in Serbo-Croat were a major asset, as he was able to carry out numerous interviews with some of the important players in the story; their stories help flesh out his account and give it a human dimension it might otherwise have lacked.

I will continue my brief review of How Bosnia Armed after I finish the second half.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

President Alija Izetbegovic was, in no way, a genius. He was slow to recognize danger even after Radovan Karadzic threatened the destruction of Bosniak people. Izetbetovic used to say that it takes two sides for the war... which is far from reality, because in most armed conflicts one side attacks and the other defends itself. So it takes only 1 match to start a forest fire, rarely too.